Chefs v food writers, whats the scoop?

We all have them, and probably more than one: cookbooks.  Celebrity chefs dominate our TV, press and now political lobbying.  But has this brand size got to the point of too much ‘celebrity’ and not enough home food?  How many meals can you cook in fifteen minutes?


Last week I noticed an article about James Tanner in the Metro.  Don’t get me wrong, this is not an attack on James Tanner, its a debate about public perception verses reality.

Regular readers will know I’ve won the Gourmand World Cookbook Award, a global achievement of the best in the industry globally I’m very proud to have achieved. I know the work that has gone into this, writing a book takes a good year, never mind the testing of the recipes, checking they work for all kinds of cooks with all level of cooking ability and checking different varients of ingredients work to get the same results everytime.  I know how tough it all is.  I know with my name on the cover I don’t want any of my work to be second best.  I want to ensure that a cake cooked at 180C comes out the same with the Gas Mark equivalent of number 4 and the Fan oven equivalent of 160C as well as the AGA Baking Oven.  This takes time and money.

But how many times have we seen in recent years about recipes not working in books?  How sales hooks of time frames stipulated can not be met, how economy cooking on TV shows by chefs is not actually possible?  Meet the Food Writer.  That’s us, we have written more books than you know, sometimes with our names on them, some times not.  We test, we work through, we take what the chef conceives and make it a reality that works.

In this modern day of ‘celebrity chef’ the celebrity becomes a brand.  I’m constantly amazed how many people will say I got ‘such and such’s’ new cookbook.  It makes me think, where would these people get the time to write them, lobby parliament, write for news papers, run a restaurant and keep their online media going all at the same time.  Sorry to let the cat out of the bag, but its the food writer that writes the book while the agent organises the rest.  Chefs struggle to write recipes, fact.  They work in kitchens with teams of people, with items like stock to hand that makes a recipe taste that bit better, equipment not found in the home and time to create marvelous things you and I just don’t.  Chefs are brilliant at creating concepts a mix of the old and new, a fusion, an excitement.  That’s where the food writer comes in, we make it work.  We are the brains of food behind these people, we are the inspiration for the photographs and the security and strength of the results.  They say one bad apple makes a barrel rotten, well, that’s true too, one bad recipe ruins brand image.

Do these books last the test of time?  I don’t think so.  For me food is the one thing that brings people together.  Even more so than sport.  Its the one thing that removes religious and political issues.  Its brings a time of sharing, communication and a chance to talk about social history.  These books written about people and their life last the test of time.  Food promotes love.  Robert Oliver – New Zealnds Food Ambassador explains this well in a recent TED lecture.

The advice I would give to any chef wanting a book is simple, write out the concept of the book, write out a recipe intro to describe each of the dishes and leave the rest to the food writer.  That way all will work everytime for every home consumer in ever kitchen.

So next time you buy a cookbook with nice pics of a sexy celebrity, please spare a thought to those that may have their name on the inside cover on the masthead.  We did the work, and you know what, we loved doing it too.

4 thoughts on “Chefs v food writers, whats the scoop?

  1. Don’e people generally understand how this works….books don’t get written without editors and illustrators and peer reviewers and all the technological support that is required now adays…..its so naive to think that one person can produce so much….and so professionally…naive…..way up…we need to herd those cats out of a lot of bags…not just the one about the celebrity cooks….it happens in the age of celebrity…which is so bogus….its all branding….and big business…

  2. I’ve written a blog about food writing and Celebrity Chefs…

    A great article – it’s all absolutely true. There are so many good food writers out there with years of experience who just cannot break into the book publishing area. If you’ve written a book yourself and approach a publisher you are told that it is not viable because you are not a celebrity and too much of a risk. Celebrity sells – especially in the cook books. Sad but true.
    By Cathy Seward

  3. Pingback: Recipe testing, whats the scoop? | James McIntosh's Blog

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